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Please check out the following sermon preached this past Sunday at Sparta United Methodist Church in Sparta, NJ by Kathleen Stone, Chaplain to the Church Center for the United Nations.  It is specifically speaking about two texts from last Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Mark 12:38-44.

I’ve entitled this sermon, confessions from a woman’s eyes.

I feel a little bit that by the end of this morning, in the best of light you might look at me like I’ve uncovered the missing “r” that the monk discovered.   You see after all these 2000 years, and the 100s of years of painstaking transcription, writing down each letter with such precision, the monk discovers that an “r” had been dropped by some early predecessor who had worked painstakingly in the night to illustrate the scriptures.  You see, it was supposed to be “celebrate”….not celebate.

Now, lest you think I’m thinking this would be good news and everyone would be happy, imagine the traditionalists, imagine the church structures, and imagine all the conflict that this discovery would bring forth.

But, just to be straight up.   Here’s what I’m trying to do these days.   Scripture has been interpreted for 2000 years mostly through the eyes of those who really do not know the story of women unless they were married to them and even then, well……husbands, boyfriends, sons…..do you find yourselves sometimes just not understanding women at all?   Women’s experiences of life, the social, economic and political world around them and what they do about it really are somewhat outside men’s experiences of the same.

I remember this amazing poet I used to listen to quite regularly and he and a female storyteller did a seminar together.   In that seminar, they discussed what happens between men and women in relationship….And with great humor, David Whyte – the poet said…..you know…..the woman comes in and says…. “Dear, we need to talk about this” and the man responds, “Again?   Didn’t we talk about that last week?”

So, I ask you for a moment to think and feel along with me.   I know this can be challenging but give me and the God who has freed me and liberated me to tell my truth, for this moment, give me a hearing…….

These two texts were simply the texts assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary.

Widows — Ruth and Naomi, as well as this unnamed woman in the Gospel story, they were all widows.   In ancient Israel, a widow, was the proverbial metaphor for someone who was utterly marginalized by the society in which they lived.  They are poor, not from their own merits, content of their character or any other reason than the written and unwritten cultural, legal, social, economic policies that impoverished them and told them they are without any power.   They are not powerless or voiceless because they have no voice or no inner power or have nothing to contribute to society.   They are not helpless or dumb or uneducated from the skills they need to live in that society …… they are impoverished and exiled because the society has dis-enfranchised them and determined that they are not worth a hearing, not worth a roof over their head, not worth food on their tables…not worth anything. They are not poor because they deserve it, are owed it, did it wrong, made the wrong decisions, etc.   They are poor because the policy of the land made it so that …….unless the widow was attractive enough for a man to remarry her, she remained destitute, and vulnerable to atrocities. 

This attitude was in ancient Israel (and in some places around the world still) considered normal; not many questioned this aspect of the social world.   The Prophets challenged it sometimes.   But mainstream temple politics certainly did not.  It was most often not raised up as a question in men’s literacy classes.   The widows themselves, I’m sure, critiqued the injustice, but most merely had to put their heads down and somehow manipulate their circumstances as best they could so that they’d be able to have another meal and a roof over their heads…..  These were women……seriously cursed not by God, but it could be taken out on God…..they were women seriously cursed by the social world in which they lived. …. As they both grieved for the life and perhaps love they had lost and had concerns for their survival at levels I don’t know whether many of us in this sanctuary can relate to.

Let’s look at the texts now that we have a bit of context.   We have a bit more of Ruth and Naomi’s life in text than the Widow in the Gospel text.

In Ruth and Naomi’s case, the horrendous nature of the political and economic and social consequences of being marginalized come forth into their lives….    First of all, they have to migrate.   Naomi determines to go back where she thinks she has a bit of a community from the past.   But, Naomi arrives back into Israel to gossip from the townswomen who do not quite recognize her, and question whether she is Naomi.   I wonder if grief and the hardship of widowhood and migrating across the desert had all taken their toll.    The women of the community (which I assume are all married)  had bought into the ways things were…..had bought into the horrors of a system of social, economic and political exclusion – probably saying things like  “but for the Grace of God, go I” and then saying, “What are you going to do;  look at her,  she’s so far gone”.  But, for whatever reasons, the community support systems that Naomi had wished for are just not there.  Naomi is no longer beautiful or young and I’m assuming she has some deep well of grief and anger that she needs to work through just because of that; but this next injury where her sisters from the past gossip and exclude her again — God, help us.

The incredibly loyal daughter in law Ruth thus must figure out a way for them to survive.   So, she goes out to glean the barley in Boaz’s fields.   Gleaning, for those of you who don’t know, was a legal way that the impoverished could have food in ancient Israel – like a food bank,  this was the leftovers…..they would follow behind the official harvesters and glean whatever little bits were left.   Whole loads of poor people often gleaned in the fields.

For a while this gleaning works for Naomi and Ruth, but in today’s text, the fields are harvested and so, like we heard, they have to figure out something new to survive.   Naomi, wise in the ways of the world, determines to use the one power the two of them have left,   Ruth’s youth, appearance and beauty…coupled with the power of sexual attraction…..  Naomi traffics Ruth – dressing her in very attractive clothing and perfume, Naomi tells her to lie down with the twice her age old man Boaz in the middle of the threshing floor.   This way, they might both have a chance of surviving.

Now let me stop here.   Tradition hasn’t usually looked at this text in the way I’m going to look at it.  Traditional interpretations seriously white wash Boaz.   The tradition says:   Boaz is a savior type figure who saved Ruth and Naomi and whose descendants eventually birthed Jesus.   We know, certainly, that without Boaz, the life of Ruth and Naomi would have most likely ended, unless they found another way to survive. ….…. . But from my vantage point, Boaz isn’t really worthy at the entire label of savior.   He simply uses his economic, political and cultural power as a landowning politically privileged male of significant social stature to get what he wants.  He neither really cares whether women who are still left in the fields have anything to eat…. nor figures out ways that there could be a more systemic address to feed the widows where they would not be so impoverished.   He simply figures out a way to save the one he wants, Ruth, who has done such kindness to him to lie down with him, an old man….. and realizes it’s probably a package deal with Naomi.

This is the moral dilemma with having power.   And this is what I want to talk about…..For I believe this is the challenge in both this story and the widow’s mite story.   When you have economic, social or political power, you can use it simply to get more of what you want or you can understand the systems and pressures that create the power imbalances and the totally unjust judgments of society……and do something about that…..notice it….tell the truth about it…..work to eradicate it.  I prefer to think the 2nd of these is Gospel Good News work.

In the Widow’s mite story, Jesus is pointing out not so much the Widow’s two cents as the Widow’s two cents in comparison to the Sadducees and Pharisees who’s relatively small but great contribution allowed them access to the power and privileges of the temple.  They were sure they were “in”, “righteous”, “the ones whose appearance seemed so clean” while at night they devoured widows’ houses.   How we could spend a long time on this when we think about bank bailouts, the housing crisis, the ways were made to participate in a system which is just not good for poor people, which does ok for the middle class but which does very well for the rich……….from birth to death…..

Recent elections?  Yes, we can use the power we have to get what we want, to make us feel important, to make sure we have the privileges we think important…..  Or we can use it to make sure that the systems change so that no woman or man or child ever has to compromise their fullness of life, the abundant life,  by giving their proverbial last two pence to the religious coffers…..or that no man, woman or child ever has to give their body to the Boaz’s of the world in order to belong, be a part, to eat, to have shelter, to be forgiven, to have a place…..everyone should have these things…..PERIOD.

What is the role of the Church – the Body of Christ – in such a world……..  

We can take a look at the Body of  Jesus’  in this middle of this culturally, politically and economically disastrously powerless world for widows, for those disenfranchised…those society has deemed not so important………He sits down where he can see what’s going on and he waits, and listens, and watches and from all of that, he slams the Pharisees and Sadducees – tells the truth about them and then…finds a widow, this unnamed widow – the one with nothing – no looks, no marriageability, no power in society and impoverished and notices her. …..There’s nothing pretty about what he gazes upon.  It’s painful.   She’s putting her last two pennies in the temple treasury….Don’t you want to shout, “STOP!”   But, he watches her.   He gazes upon her.     And then?   He raises her up.   He notices her love, her faithfulness, her hope, her story, her generosity, her richness and in pointing to the system of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he then condemns a system that would require her to give her last two pennies to the Temple treasury where she will receive nothing in return from their economic, political or social distribution of power…no power to sit up front, no belonging, no food, no redemption….nothing…..    He watches her.   The great Jesus who had crowds of people gathering around him, in the center of Jewish economic, social, political power, the Temple which was in the center of an unjust Jerusalem and he gazes upon the one who is “nothing” in the eyes of the world…

I’m not pretending to have answers about what the Church should do, but Jesus’ action here would be a good start.   I’m sure there was discomfort in the room when Jesus pointed out this concern in the Temple and to raise up a Widow’s tuppence as the better gift?   Where do we need to point out the concern in our life together, dear people?   And how would this truth-telling and compassion truly embody the good news Gospel?

For the women of the North America Hunger Caucus, the focus was on connecting small stories to the big picture.

Members shared facts: Under US nutrition guidelines, 2 packets of ketchup count as a vegetable. 51% of children in Oregon go hungry. 70 years ago, one in seven Americans were skilled farmers; now it’s one percent.

These facts paint the picture that nutrition has an impact on every issue affecting the lives and livelihoods of women. For that central, essential reason, we will focus our efforts this week on adding language to the Agreed Conclusions that addresses nutrition guidelines and policy.

-Katherine Blaisdell

You can watch video clips from this session on our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EcumenicalWomenCSW56!

[Athena Peralta, World Council of Churches Consultant on Poverty Wealth and Ecology, presented the below address during the United Nations’ General Assembly Hearing with Civil Society on the Millennium Development Goals, 14-15 June 2010, New York]

Tackling the roots of poverty

For Christian churches and the worldwide ecumenical movement, eradicating poverty is nothing less than a moral and ethical imperative. We believe that God’s will is for all humanity – regardless of gender, religious belief, race and ethnicity – to experience life in fullness and in dignity. Thus, together with many civil society organisations (CSOs), we at the World Council of Churches (WCC) applauded the United Nations (UN) in 2000 for taking leadership in the articulation and adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), foremost of which is the internationally agreed goal to halve the number of people “living” in poverty by 2015. Discussions on poverty eradication must continue to be a main concern of the UN, where broad participation of all nation-states and civil society could take place. As 2015 looms closer, there is an urgent need for the international community to revisit and deeply consider the structural, historical and interconnected roots of impoverishment and the required policy- and systemic transformations leading not just to the attainment of the MDGs but to the eventual eradication of poverty.

The WCC remains profoundly concerned that the global financial and economic crisis – which continues to wreak havoc on economies including in the Euro zone – has thrown tens of millions more people into poverty, swelling the ranks of the disempowered, hungry, thirsty, unemployed, sick and homeless, and further derailing the achievement of the MDGs. At this stage of the crisis, many countries are being forced to adopt stringent fiscal policies that imperil economic recovery as well as social and ecological protection – at a time when such protection is needed most.

If anything, the global economic turmoil has called into serious question the previously widely accepted role of deregulated and liberalised global financial and trade structures in reducing poverty: current evidence points to the opposite. Yet the international community appears not to have adequately absorbed these sobering lessons. Prevailing financial and trade paradigms are still driven, at core, by the pursuit of ever-higher growth rates and short-term returns at the expense of people’s economic, social and cultural rights and the health of our increasingly fragile ecosystems. Mere economic growth, however, has already been shown to be an unsustainable, inefficient – and in some cases, ineffective – way of addressing the global poverty crisis.

Against this light, the WCC reiterates its calls for governments and international institutions – with the democratic participation of all peoples – to pursue economic policies as well as build economic frameworks that move away from the current paradigm that is focused on unlimited growth and based on structural greed towards models founded on pro-poor, redistributive growth; universal provisioning of common social goods; sustainable consumption and production; and investments in small-holder agriculture (which continues to be the main source of livelihood for people and women in poverty), social reproduction and ecological protection.

Critical to lifting societies and people out of poverty is a much more equitable distribution of assets (capital, technology, land, education, health care, among others). A wealth of studies reveals that the lack of access by the poor (especially poor women) to assets necessary to achieve socio-economic security as well as higher productivity and income is a “fundamental constraint” on poverty eradication.

Emphasising the pivotal role of MDG 8 (global partnerships for development) in meeting the rest of the MDGs, governments and international institutions must seriously respond to widening inequalities among and within nations and the global financial and trade structures that propagate and deepen these inequalities.  Much more attention ought to be placed on developing policies and structures that enable wealth-sharing among and within countries.

Poverty eradication is of course a critical goal in and by itself. At the same time, the WCC has long argued that many of the violent conflicts that continue to rage in different parts of our world stem in large part from the socio-economic deprivation experienced by communities. Thus, measures to eradicate poverty and close socio-economic gaps are important pathways to strengthening social cohesion and achieving lasting peace at local, national and global levels.

We believe that mobilising the financial resources needed for poverty eradication and the achievement of the MDGs – particularly through creative forms of taxation inasmuch as taxes are the only sustainable source of development finance – is a matter of political will, yes, and also of moral courage. At the onset of the global financial and economic crash, governments in rich countries were able to put together trillions of dollars in a matter of months to resuscitate ailing financial institutions; and global military spending continues to increase, amounting to US$ 1464 billion in 2008 alone (SIPRI 2010). We need to re-examine and dismantle such a perverse system of priorities that places more import on rescuing big banks and acquiring machines that kill people than on emancipating people from starvation and homelessness. Clearly, the often put forward excuse of a dearth of financial resources to overcome poverty is instead more indicative of a dearth of life-affirming values and morals – a dearth of justice, solidarity and care.

What the international community can and must do in 1660 days

Reshaping the unjust financial and trade structures that generate and reinforce poverty and inequality is a long-term undertaking requiring coordinated action and meaningful cooperation among and between governments and international developmental institutions, as recognised by MDG 8, beyond 2015. Yet this does not preclude the international community from taking immediate measures and initial steps towards deep-seated transformations. Therefore, the WCC calls on governments and international institutions to commit to the following actions at the MDG Summit in September 2010:

  • Enact urgent financial reforms and support further high-level discussions with substantial civil society participation under the auspices of the Financing for Development process to build an international financial architecture that not only distributes socio-economic risks fairly but finances job-creating production, social reproduction and environmental sustainability; and in particular with a view to:
    • Achieving stronger democratic oversight of international financial institutions, by making them subject to a UN Global Economic Council with the same status as the UN Security Council as proposed by the Stiglitz Commission;
    • Creating and/or transforming financial regulatory institutions and mechanisms and implementing financial transaction taxes to deter speculation (whether on currency, food and other commodities) and capital flight;
    • Supporting regional initiatives that decentralise finance and empower people in the global South to exercise control over their own development through bodies such as the Bank of the South, the Asian Monetary Fund and the Bank of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América;
    • Strengthening tax systems by establishing an international accounting standard requiring country-by-country reporting of transnational companies’ economic activities and taxes paid and forging a multilateral agreement to set a mandatory requirement for the automatic exchange of tax information between all jurisdictions to prevent tax avoidance;
    • Establishing a new global reserve system based on a supranational global reserve currency and regional and local currencies;
    • Setting up a new international credit agency with greater democratic governance than currently exists under the Bretton Woods institutions;
    • Setting up an international bankruptcy court with the authority to cancel odious and other kinds of illegitimate debts (learn details at Credit Fix) and to arbitrate other debt issues;
    • Regulating and reforming the credit agency industry into proper independent supervision institution(s), based on more transparency about ratings and strict regulation on the management of conflict of interest; and
    • Using innovative sources of finance, including carbon and financial transaction taxes, to pay for global public goods and poverty eradication.
  • Resume the Doha Round of trade talks and review free trade agreements based on the objective of transforming multilateral and bilateral trade and investment rules and agreements in support of realising the enshrined rights to food, water, health, education, and gainful and decent employment; and in particular to:
    • Implement workable common international regulations to end agricultural import dumping; and
    • Establish international commodity agreements setting stable base prices for products.
  • Channel resources away from military spending and odious and illegitimate debt payments to investment areas with potentially strong anti-poverty impacts, particularly small-holder agriculture, social development and ecological sustainability; as well as ensure that development assistance to poor countries is not diminished in light of current pressures to rein in fiscal deficits.
  • Discuss and adopt new and more balanced indicators that factor in social and ecological costs and benefits, and therefore better measure and monitor global socio-ecological-economic progress.

By Simon Khayala, BD student St. Paul’s University, Kenya and youth pastor in the African Church of the Holy Spirit

Introduction

I would not have written about this topic, if I did not believe that the Bible has important things to tell us, not only about spiritual matters but also about material concerns. Anyone who begins to study those parts of the Bible which deal with poverty and riches will come up against what at the first sight seems to be a confusing amount of contradictory material. At first riches are a blessing, but latter they become a curse; at times poverty seems to be praised, but elsewhere it is regarded as a disgrace.

Remember some of these examples from the Bible: “Blessed are you poor” (Luke 6:20); “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer” (John 16:33); “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world?” (Mark 8:36);  while other text put all emphasis on poverty as a spiritual problem.

Poverty and riches are not independent phenomena. One person is poor because another is rich. Poverty is not a state of deprivation which has come about by chance; it is determined by the structures of society. In trying to understand these issues of poverty and richness we need to understand the social developments of the poor and rich in the Bible.

Vocabulary for poor and rich in the Bible

The Bible has a large vocabulary for describing the poor man and his situation. In the Old Testament, the commonest word for the poor is ani: It is used 77 times, above all in the Psalms (29 times). Literally, ani is used to denote a person who is bowed down, and who occupies a lowly position. The ani has to look up to others who are higher than he. He is humiliated; he can not stand up right because of economic and social pressure. The ani however is not contrasted with the rich, but with the man of violence, the oppressor, who put the ani in his lowly position and keeps him there.

The word anaw is very closely associated with ani. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, anaw tend to be less materialistic. The anaw is someone who is aware of being of little account before God; the anaw is humble and/or gentle. Here the emphasis can be more on poverty as a spiritual attitude.

The word dal is used above all for physical weakness and material poverty with no other connotations.

For the prophet Amos (2:6ff), being poor is comparable with being righteous (tsaddiq).

The New Testament also has different words for describing the poor man and his condition. Prochos is the commonest of them. The prochos is someone who has to try to live completely without means and is dependent on the help of others.

The Old Testament has a variety of expression about riches; riches influences power, possessions, abundance, nobility among other. The same is true of the New Testament. To be rich is to have an existence of good thing, where there are no shortages. In biblical thought riches are initially success guaranteed by God to those who observes the laws of the covenant. Abraham is the living example of this un-problematic view of riches. His possessions are sheer blessing. These kind of blessings and possessions are however not a privilege obtained at the expense of others. If one man is rich, all members of the tribe are rich. The words used to describe the poor in nomadic times seem to be of non Israelite origin.

Poor and rich: Social developments in the Bible

There came an end to this nomadic life and Israelite became farmers and began to settle. But before settlement in Canaan there seem to have been no clear distinctions between the poor and the rich. At this time there were no extreme social problems, economic conflicts and social class, the family was a financial unit (Leviticus 27). When the tribes of Israel settled in the land of Canaan around 1200 BC, they turned from being semi-nomads to small independent farmers; this made them to become rivals.

Anyone who was given an unfertile piece of land soon become poor and was compelled to sell himself and his family to slavery. The system of values changed even more quickly through intermarriage with Canaanite families which were more skilled at agriculture. The possession of property became the centre of interest. People began to increase their possessions and become rich.

At the time a distinction arose between the poor and those who owned land. The development of an economy involving dealing in trade and land disrupted equality of the families. Some families became rich and others slowly became poor.

Conclusion

We can conclude that, even in the bible poverty is directly connected with the structures within which people live. Poverty does not develop of its own accord; people do not become poor because they are idol – they become idol because they are poor. This means that solving the problem is never a matter of the poor – it’s the task of the rich. The rich is reminded into his responsibility and to an increasing degree of his guilt. He must transform his social success into a blessing for his fellow country men; he must be the one to encourage opposition to the widening gap between the rich and the poor. However, he fails to do this.

In reality, for all the public criticism made by the prophets and in spite of legislation, the social development continued and the gulf widened further. This is similar to our present world: the rich continue to become richer at the expense of the poor. In most parts of the world a few rich individuals continue to accumulate more wealth at the expense of many poor people.

Recommended reading with helpful ideas for the discussion: Conrad Boerma, “The rich man, poor man and the bible”  (1976).

Posted by Onleilove Alston and authored by Yuan Tang

God doesn’t need an army of men to change the world.  Rather He needs servants with humble hearts who are willing to do His work.  As Christians, we need hearts of persistence, faith, and love that endures through the discouragements and hopelessness that can come with human rights work.  It is through relationships and communities that change happens.

I met Im Sopheak while I spent my summer abroad in Pnomh Penh doing legal work.  He is a Christian who started an organization called the Lazarus Project in 2005 where he goes into a slum every Sunday to teach the children Bible stories.  I offered to go with him since I taught Children’s Bible Study at my church.  I had no idea of the impact that those two hours would have on me.

Read the rest of this entry »

By Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, the Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and co-founder of the blog Café Thawra

child_bridesAllow me to share with you a topic that has profoundly moved me. A topic so incredibly important that it got me to reconsider a lot of things that I was taking for granted, such as my right to choose what I want to do with my life or the right to an education, and value the incredible opportunities with which I have been blessed.

I’m talking here about the oh-so-horrifying issue of child brides.

I was deeply shocked by a documentary we watched at work that was aired on the TV show NOW! On PBS called Child Brides, Stolen Lives, relating the life path of child brides from India, Niger and Guatemala.

Now don’t get me wrong.

I knew child brides existed, I knew the horrors of it.

But somehow seeing the interview of these little girls sharing their hopes and dreams, after having endured the unspeakable in some cases, kind of slapped me in the face and woke me up about the issue.

So I decided to do what I could do, on my level.

Write.

From the Mormons communities of the United States, to the Xhosa realms in South Africa via the dry desert of Saudi Arabia, the problem of early marriage is a practice that plagues communities all over the planet. In its report “Early Marriage, A Harmful Traditional Practice”, UNICEF gives us a much-needed reminder on the International Law texts regulating the issue of marriage:

“The right to ‘free and full’ consent to a marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – with the recognition that consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when one of the parties involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women mentions the right to protection from child marriage in article 16, which states: “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage.”

Why do early marriages happen? Just like female genital mutilation, early marriage is a dangerous traditional practice. Many factors lead to the perpetuation of such a tradition, including poverty, culture and beliefs, and lack of education. Although governments try to put a stop to it, communities still believe it is carved in stone and protect one another from the police and inspectors. maldaindiaGETTY070606_228x189The idea that a girl should be “protected” against herself dies hard. It is as if, in order to prevent the “dishonour” of a girl (and hence, of her family), girls had to be married as soon as possible, to make them “respectable”. Once again, women bear the burden of the millennium-old prejudice that has plagued their ancestors. This obsession with the “purity” of women is coupled with a lack of resources and poverty: the girl is considered a burden that won’t work and bring money to the household, and thus should be better off married.

This solution is naturally designed for the benefit of everyone but the child bride, who, at sometimes as young as three years old, do not understand what is happening around her.

Nevertheless, it would also be wrong to think that families that marry their girls so young are hateful psychopaths willing to get rid of their daughters: most of the times, mothers and fathers want the best for their children, and what’s the best thing for a girl? To be respectable and thus respected. They simply follow the trend to spare their children what they believe to be a shameful situation.

This practice is however tremendously dangerous on various levels. First of all, it infringes the very Human Rights of girls and young women, leaving them with very few life choices and often making them ideal preys for modern-day slavery. The girl that finds herself stranded in her husband’s community often has to become everyone’s servant and to endure ill-treatments. Besides, it harms the physical integrity of the these girls who often get pregnant and give birth at an age when their body is still developing, leading to rough complications during the birth, leaving them to endure fistula, a highly-stigmatising condition that isolate them from society, even threatening their lives.

And finally, it utterly and completely shatters their self-esteem, and their confidence in a happy marriage. Most of the girls that manage to get out of their dire situations swear that they will never marry again, that the whole experience left them feeling worthless.

So what to do? Advocacy is once again the key, coupled with skills-building and confidence-building sessions. Education programmes have to be put in place to make community leaders and parents understand that letting their daughters go to school will actually make them more productive and will allow them to bring more resources to the community, and benefit society as a whole. Awareness campaigns should be implemented to involve men and make them understand that marrying a child isn’t the right thing to do, that it doesn’t make them any more of a man.

Imagine if it were you that were abducted, and made to live with a stranger that has 10 times your age, with no future ahead of you.

I tried imagining it but couldn’t.

The courage of these little girls put me and my constant whining to deep, deep shame. Let us not forget them and work hard until we make this practice history.

by Onleilove Alston

Note: Though DWU works on issues affecting domestic workers in the U.S. the issues faced by its membership are shared by women worldwide. The exploitation of women workers is an international human rights issue. According to Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the U.N. :

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor  and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. THEY will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD   for the display of his splendor. THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; THEY will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. -Isaiah 61:1-4

“I want to be in tune with my maker.”

“I pray for the organization to get the (the Domestic Worker) Bill of Rights passed”.

“Without God we can’t do anything”.

“I put fliers in the churches, I speak to the pastors”.

–Marilyn Marshall and Joyce Gill-Campbell Leaders in Domestic Workers United (DWU)

“We have a dream that one day, all work
will be valued equally”.-Mission of Domestic Workers United

During the spring of 2006 I started to closely read Isaiah 61 and began to gain spiritual encouragement from meditating on God’s care for the poor and oppressed. I began to study this scripture whenever I had the chance. In 2007 I started to work with New York Faith & Justice after meeting founders: Lisa Sharon Harper, Anna Lee and Peter Heltzel at Pentecost 2007. In the Fall of 2007 New York Faith & Justice did an in-depth Bible Study on Isaiah 61 and from this study I learned that this passage declares the poor “the oaks of righteousness”, and “that THEY will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated”. This new insight revolutionized my approach to the ministry of ending poverty. Instead of just preaching the gospel to the poor, the poor are called to rebuild and restore their communities! If you are a person of privilege instead of working for the poor you are called to work alongside the poor. And if like me you come from the ranks of the poor you are called to rebuild and restore your community. This re-reading of Isaiah 61 is further supported by my work with the Poverty Initiative’s Poverty Scholars Program. The Poverty Scholars program brings poor activist from across America to Union Theological Seminary to take part in an educational program of conferences, theological reflection and action planning centered on re-igniting Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign.

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The Poverty Initiative, based at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, has a mission “to raise up generations of religious and community leaders dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor.” Recently, at Camp Virgil Tate outside Charleston, West Virginia, they presented a week-long Leadership School with leaders from more than 20 organizations, including NY Faith & Justice, Domestic Workers United, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Jesus People Against Pollution, as well as international participants such as the Shackdwellers Movement from South Africa, the Church of Scotland, and Justicia Global from the Dominican Republic.

090904-leadership-schoolHere, Union alumna and Poverty Initiative member Kym McNair interviews Donna Barrowcliffe, the development manager from the Community Church of Ruchazie in Glasglow, where she works with the Church of Scotland Priority Areas Project (a project focusing on the poorest areas of Scotland). Donna was born and raised in a priority area.

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